Perhaps the hardest thing about growing your own cucumbers is deciding which type to grow.
There are three major cultivar types that can all grow well in Prince George.
You can choose from pickling, fresh market/slicing, and greenhouse. The greenhouse types are those varieties grown only in greenhouses such as the Long English/European types like ‘Telegraph’ or ‘Carmen’. They grow long and thin and are favoured for their tender edible skin. The fresh market types such as ‘Straight 8’, ‘Market More’, ‘Sweet Slice’, etc., have a slightly tougher skin, that is usually peeled, and are eaten fresh, or in salads. They are usually shorter than the Long English types and longer than the pickling type which have the bumpy skin and are used for processing to make pickles.
Growing pickling and slicing cucumbers outdoors, in our area can be a challenge because of our short growing season, so it is not recommended to start them from seed outdoors in the garden. Start seeds indoors, around mid/late-April so that the plants are ready for transplanting outdoors in late May, after all risk of frost has passed.
When starting seeds indoors, plant them in individual peat pots as cucumbers do not like to have their roots disturbed. The seeds need heat to help them germinate so placing the planted seeds on a heat mat or warm floor is helpful. To grow strong, sturdy plants, give them lots of daily, direct light. An adjustable light stand works well. If they are growing on a window ledge, rotate the plants every couple of days to ensure even light.
When it is time to plant the cucumber plants outdoors, harden them off first by placing them outdoors and bringing them in at night for a few days, so that the plants get used to the change in temperatures.
Cucumber plants enjoy a fertile, well-drained soil, rich in compost. They also like heat, so plant them in a sunny location. One way to keep the soil warm, is by placing a sheet of black plastic on the ground before planting, then cut a slit in the plastic where you will be planting the cucumber plant. The plastic traps and keeps the heat as well as the moisture and thirdly works as a weed barrier.
Plant cucumbers in hills of 2-3 plants per hill and space the hills 30-50 cm apart in rows that are spaced 1.7-2 meters apart, depending on variety type.
If you have a greenhouse, grow the Long English types in the greenhouse. They do not require a lot of space because they grow up, and they also do not require any pollinators such as bees because they are parthenocarpic and seedless. If you grow the Long English type in the greenhouse, do not grow any other type of cucumber in the greenhouse as you do not want cross pollination which will result in bitter tasting, odd shaped cucumbers.
Cucumbers can also be grown in containers. Over the past few years we have been growing and selling the mini gourmet cucumbers grown in 12 inch plastic hanging baskets. The cucumbers have a smooth, green, delicate skin similar to the English Cucumber except smaller (15-20cm).
Other types and varieties can also be grown in containers. There are some varieties that are good for containers as they are smaller sized plants ideal for container growing. The container size depends on the variety, but the bigger the container, the less often it will need to be watered.
For healthy growth, cucumbers need an adequate supply of moisture, do not let them dry out, but also do not keep them too wet which will cause them to become waterlogged. Also try not to get the foliage wet, as cucumber plants are prone to mildew. They are also heavy feeders so fertilize the plants weekly with a vegetable/tomato fertilizer.
Many of the slicing and pickling types of cucumbers require pollinators in order to produce fruit. The plant will first produce male flowers which provide the pollen, followed soon by the female flowers that are identified by the small cucumber at the base of the flower. For the cucumber to develop it needs to be pollinated.
When the plant starts to produce fruit, pick it right away. The more fruit you pick the more fruit the plant will produce. Fruit left on the plant will become less tasty as well as take important energy away from the plant to produce more fruit.
For a constant supply of cucumbers, try growing different types with different maturing times. The mini gourmet cucumbers are the first to produce while the slicing types take a little longer.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George:
- Highway16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 north at Nothwood Pulpmill Road